The human aspect of sustainability

Members of the "Stitch and Munch" group. Courtesy photo

Clarissa Mansfield
Western Libraries

We at the Western Libraries are guided by our mission: “Western Libraries connects—people to people, people to place, and people to learning.”

One of the many ways in which we make such connections is through collaborating with students, staff and faculty to create educational proposals that have meaningful impacts. As such, Western Libraries has participated in several Green Energy Fee Grant Program-sponsored projects, including one during winter quarter that emphasizes the importance of social equity as an integral component of sustainability. The GEF Grant Program supports projects that are designed to increase student involvement and education, reduce the university's environmental impact and create an aware and engaged campus community.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, in the Library Presentation Room, (Wilson Library 164F), we will host a viewing of the film "The Economics of Happiness," followed by a panel-led dialogue that explores the topic of social equity as an important aspect of sustainability while asking the question, "How can we create and sustain happiness as a community?"

Grace Wang, an associate professor of natural resource policy at Western, and Joanne DeMark, a leadership development specialist with Western's Leadership Advantage Program, will serve on a panel alongside Andrew Eckels, a Fairhaven Colelge of Interdisciplinary Studies student concentrating on social justice and education. The three panelists will lead a conversation as a complement to the themes featured in the film.

"The film touches on the social equity piece of sustainability," said Shevell Thibou, a program coordinator with the Learning Commons at WWU. "It asks: what is true happiness? Can we get happiness from material things? Or is it through building networks of support and community, and through bonding with other individuals? Basically, the relationships we build with one another are what’s most important, and this project focuses on community—both building and supporting community."

There is another component of this project that may surprise you. While the connection between sock moneys and sustainability may not seem like an obvious one, here at Western and thanks to Office of Sustainability staff member Carol Berry, sock monkeys and sustainability do have a special relationship. Berry gifted the Libraries' Mathes Figurine Collection with the sock monkey Hans Wholebean after the Circulation Department received its Sustainable Office Certification. Hans quickly became the Libraries’ institutional symbol of sustainability, as he demonstrates on the Libraries’ sustainability blog, The Green Shelf. Since Hans has a loyal following around the library, and as one thing frequently leads to another, Thibou, Berry, and others began considering how they might do more to highlight the social equity piece of sustainability, and in doing so discovered another connection between social equity and sock monkeys.

“We started talking about how sweet the sock monkeys are and how the small little stuffed animal can brighten up your day. Earlier, I had talked with a middle-schooler who needed help with a project about child abuse, and she explained what those kids have to go through when they are transferred to a different home,” explained Thibou. “I was thinking about how comforting the sock monkey could be and I brought this up at the OS ‘Lunch & Learn,’ and then we stumbled upon an idea of finding a way to make sock monkeys for these children.”

Thibou pitched the idea of forming a group that could make personalized sock monkeys (using re-claimed materials for all of the monkeys’ clothing), to give to children who are transitioning into foster care. Thibou contacted Bellingham’s Children Administration Office to gauge their thoughts on this proposal, and they responded with support.

“The children who are served by the Bellingham Children’s Administration Office often come to our office en route to foster or relative care with only the clothes they are wearing and no toys or personal items,” explained Laurie Alexander from Bellingham Children’s Administration. “I am sure they would be very excited to receive a sock monkey and it would be a bright spot for them in the midst of a very challenging time.”

After Thibou received approval from the Children’s Administration office, University Residences employee June Fraser-Thistle grew very excited about this idea, and immediately organized students, staff, faculty, and community members to get together for the monkey-making workshops.

“I couldn't have led this project if it wasn't for all of the work and motivation received from June and all the others  in the ‘Stitch and Munch’ group that have put their heart and hard work into this project,” stated Thibou.  The “Stitch and Munch” group began work during spring quarter 2013, and since then have created about 32 monkeys.  Ultimately, 50 handmade sock monkeys will be given to Child Protection services for young children as they are being placed in new homes.

This past fall quarter, Thibou and her team members, Learning Commons student liaisons Caroline Dallstream and Simon Bakke, officially applied for a GEF grant in order to plan an event that focused on the “human” side of sustainability, and then also arrange to work with Phi Kappa Phi to jointly host two more monkey-making workshops, which is also what led to the film event this coming Wednesday.

The film event and monkey-making workshops are jointly sponsored by Western Libraries, The Learning Commons, the Green Energy Fee Grant Program, Phi Kappa Phi, and Associated Students. As Thibou explained, the goal of this project is to explore how we can build and nurture sustainable communities, and how we can learn from each other. “It’s all about caring for ourselves and for each other, and making the world brighter and better,” said Thibou.  In other words, it’s about making meaningful connections, to people, to place, and to learning.

For more information about this event, contact Shevell.Thibou@wwu.edu.

For additional information about the GEF Grant Program, contact Regan.Clover@wwu.edu. (The GEF Grant Program: provides funding to innovative, student-driven projects focused on promoting experiential learning opportunities and sustainable practices at Western Washington University. The GEF Grant Program is managed by the Office of Sustainability and supported by the AS Environmental and Sustainability Programs. Students, staff and faculty are all eligible to apply for grant funding.)